Looking back 20 years after it was fought, Alexander Stewart Webb declared that the Battle of Gettysburg “was, and is now throughout the world, known to be the Waterloo of the Rebellion.” Certainly Webb had earned the right to judge. He was in command of the Union brigade that absorbed the spearpoint of the battle’s climax on July 3, 1863, the great charge of the Confederate divisions commanded by George E. Pickett. “This three days’ contest,” Webb said, “was a constant recurrence of scenes of self-sacrifice,” especially “on the part of all engaged on the third and last day.”
One hundred fifty years later, one might imagine that Alexander Webb was suffering from a touch of middle-age myopia. The word “Gettysburg” is still powerful enough to be recognized by even the most indifferent grade-schooler as a big-box event in American history. But does it deserve to stand beside Waterloo?